Posted by Political Mammal
New enterprises are exciting. I have been thinking about that today for a couple of reasons. For one, I’m always trying to think about my own business as a new enterprise, or one that needs continual renewing. For another, I just finished a short book called The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. It’s the kind of book that is probably only interesting if you, like me, have a concrete project that you are obsessed with. In such a case you use your project as a lens through which to view all of the author’s suggestions, and then you can find some of value for yourself. I paid particular attention to the author’s sympathetic discussion of the art of bootstrapping (to start an enterprise without funding), because I did it that way and have found it rewarding. I like to hear positive thoughts about bootstrapping from the mouth of a silicon valley venture capitalist.
Another reason I was thinking about new enterprises today is that one of my meetings was with Kalyn Free, a former congressional candidate and client of ours from Oklahoma. Kalyn is an appealing spokesperson, she's around my age, and I really enjoyed talking with her. She is currently trying to launch her own kind of startup -- INDN's List (Indigenous Democratic Network, modeled after Emily’s List) to support Native American candidates for state and national political office. It will not be easy, but I bet she makes it happen on the strength of her own energy and the value of her idea. I would encourage anyone interested in a good cause in a focused niche to help her with her project.
But the notion that I could actually start my own enterprise is a pretty new one to me. I grew up in the world of school and academia, with two parents who were teachers. Any interest that I acquired in running my own thing built up very slowly over time. In this respect, I am unlike many other entrepreneurs I know who were already running businesses in high school or college. It never occurred to me until much later. Indeed, I knew very little when I started my company at the age of 32, and eight years later I am still in the initial stages of learning.
Actually, now that I think back, I did really enjoy some early experiences with entrepreneurship. One was a segment in our sixth grade class called “mini-society,” where each kid got to choose his or her own business and “run” it during class for something like forty-five minutes a day over the course of a couple of weeks. The society created its own paper currency and the "firms" engaged in trade for products and services with one another. I ran a bank, which did me no good, but I made money selling things that I made out of clay. Mini-society may have been a simulation but it was one I liked.
Another opportunity came when my brother and I got a chance to run what amounted to our own individual two-hour businesses five Saturdays a year. As kids, we scalped tickets at Colorado Buffalo football games. We showed up with a little bit of seed money and bought and sold tickets in frenzied fashion, with most transactions staying well below the face value of the tickets. Not everyone could successfully navigate the crazy pricing changes that took place over the two hours before and just after game-time, as supply and demand swung back and forth. Sometimes you might find a carload of motivated Oklahoma or Nebraska fans willing to pay forty dollars to a kid for tickets that had been acquired a minute before for five dollars. Sometimes you bought four together, only to find that the market had dried up, and your only option was to go see the game yourself, and lie down across the seats you might as well take advantage of. It was definitely an intense time of gambling, excitement and effort, and maybe a little bit of preparation for the real world.